Though basketball has evolved to benefit guards, it’s the forwards who are still the key to winning in the college ranks. Their versatility and ability to be effective in all aspects of the game generally means success for teams. Last season it was no coincidence that the top 2 teams in the Pac-12 had star forwards that carried them throughout the season. This year will be no different as there will be a group of forwards that will determine how far their teams go. Here are the forwards to watch in the Pac-12.
Jordan Loveridge, Utah Utes
Working from the low block most of his high school career, Loveridge transformed himself into a talented perimeter player while at Utah. Last season, he led the team in rebounding (7.0 rebounds per game) and was second on the team in scoring (14.7 points per game). There’s a lot to like about his game. He seeks contact when he drives down and can finish, possess great footwork, and has the ability to step out to hit the three-pointer.
There’s also a lot he can improve on however. His percentages still scream of a player that hasn’t found consistency from the perimeter, which is to be expected from a forward that was used to working from the post most of his life. He shot 42% from the field last season and shot the three-pointer at a 30.6% clip; both percentages aren’t exactly elite level. He has taken his offseason work very seriously, weightlifting with the football team to get stronger and working harder on the defensive end, which has been his Achilles heel. Though the Utes will be deeper at forward this year, look for Loveridge to take a majority of the minutes and be even more productive than he was last year.
David Kravish, Cal Bears
Berkeley’s own inside-out threat, Kravish does a lot of his work from the three-point line in. He’s very comfortable as a pick and pop big man armed with a consistent jump shot and still has the size to finish on the inside. He led the Bears in the rebounding last season with 7.7 per game and accounted for 21.5% of the team’s total rebounds. Not only was he effective on the offensive end, he also protected the rim well blocking 2.1 shots a game last season.
This season, Kravish looks to expand his range out to the three-point line to give his game another dimension. He only made 2 threes last season, but the coaching staff will be leaning on him more because of the loss of leading scorer Justin Cobbs and frontcourt partner Richard Solomon. Don’t be surprised if Kravish finishes the season leading the Bears in scoring, rebounding, and blocking.
Reid Travis, Stanford Cardinal
Think of him as the second coming of Tyler Hansbrough (minus crazy eyes). He has a grown mans body at 6’8, 241 pounds and uses it often to punish the opposition. Though he is a bit undersized compared to other college forwards, Travis has a motor that has been noted in every scouting report has being outstanding. He is not afraid of contact and will throw his body around to make space to score or rebound. He has good rebound instincts and runs the floor extremely well to get easy baskets.
Where he will need to grow quickly to help the Cardinal is on the defensive end. He lacks explosiveness to make plays defensively and doesn’t contain penetration well. Having 6-11 Stefan Nastic will help erase most mistakes he makes, but Travis will have to learn to use that impressive motor on the defensive end to really make an impact on the Stanford season.
Josh Scott, Colorado Buffaloes
He may not have highlight dunks or show incredible athleticism, but Josh Scott knows how to get the job done. Scott improved both his scoring and rebounding numbers and got named to the All-Pac 12 First Team. Scott used his size to get the upper hand on his opponents on the offensive end, but he also has a jump shot that is a consistent weapon.
The biggest knock on Scott however has been his toughness. There are zero scouts that will say he is the nastiest forward in the Pac-12. In order from him and Colorado to take the next step, Scott has to gain strength and get nastier around the rim, especially on the defensive end where he got 1.6 blocks a game, which was good for 6th in the Pac 12, but that’s not going to be enough as the Buffalos only rim protector.
Kevon Looney, UCLA Bruins
Our first 2014 five-star recruit sighting on this list and he’s a good one. UCLA landed the 10th ranked player the Rivals 150 list and gets gifted a forward that can do a little bit of everything. One thing that scouts have no doubt about Looney is his defensive versatility and willingness to compete at the defensive end. Armed with Inspector Gadget-like arms (7’1 wingspan), Looney takes great pleasure in playing the passing lanes, blocking shots, and generally making it impossible for opponents to get around him. That motor and length also helps on the glass, where he has shown great tenacity in outworking stronger forwards.
Offensively he still needs a little more polish to his game. He can spot up from three consistently and has a good ball fake to drive the lane and finish once the defense overcommits, but other than that, he can’t do much else. From the triple threat position, he doesn’t have a great handle on the ball and has a slow release on his pull up jumper. And at 183 pounds, he’s not exactly bullying anyone down on the post either. With the loss of Kyle “BAIL US OUT!” Anderson, the Bruins are going to need him to mature quickly offensively. However, his effort on both sides of the court will make up for any lack of offensive game in his first season as he flies around making plays like a collegiate Shawn Marion.
Stanley Johnson, Arizona Wildcats
Our last forward will perhaps be the best forward in the Pac-12 at the end of the year. The Wildcats pick up an absolute gem of a recruit that fits their defensive minded team perfectly. With a chiseled 6-7, 226 pound frame, Johnson can potentially guard 4 positions at the collegiate level. He takes pride in his defense and being able to control the player in front him using his physicality. He has good instincts playing the passing the lanes and never takes plays off.
Though he has trouble with shot selection and an inconsistent outside jumper, he is a beast in the open floor and as has the strength to finish through contact. Johnson has also shown good vision and is willing to make the extra pass, but where he will be really fun to watch is above the rim. He is strong enough to fend defenders off and explosive enough to rise up for a breathtaking highlight. Expect the Wildcats to seek him out in transition and bring the house down with something spectacular.